Some people love new things. Others love the old. People go to places usually based their preference. Imagine a place that is relatively new, and currently being expanded, that features something really old. At Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar (Bataan), you’ll find old Philippine houses painstakingly relocated and preserved, or rebuilt and reconstructed.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before we got to experience a journey back in time, and in different places in the Philippines in one setting, we have to retrace our steps.
We’re more familiar with Bataan for its historical significance. Jointly with the defenders entrenched in Corregidor Island, this is where the the Philippine forces valiantly made their final stand. The big guns of Corregidor rained artillery support but it was not enough to stop the Japanese invaders. Bataan fell in 1942, what we now call the Fall of Bataan. Corregidor surrendered soon after and the Philippines fell into the hands of the invaders. After the war, with the defeat of Japan and the liberation of the Philippines, a number of memorials were erected, including the Death March markers, the Dambana ng Kagitingan at Mt. Samat and the Philippine-Japanese Friendship Tower.
If you’re bored with this snippet of history, think again. In terms of historical perspective, we should never forget what the Dambana ng Kagitingan represents. In terms of travel planning, these historical sites are along the route to Las Casas Filipinas and, if you’ve never been to these sites, you should seriously consider dropping by.
Here’s the bonus — passing by these historical sites will assure you that you’re not hopelessly lost. We used the map/directions provided by the resort. We initially had no plan of using the map because any trip, at least for us, is usually a journey of discovery in every sense of the word. But, less than an hour after we left the SCTEX, the car’s GPS surprisingly indicated that the destination cannot be found. We had to fall back on the good ‘ol map. Yes, my dear, it’s always better to have a map and not need it, rather than the other way around.
The map shows two ways of getting to Las Casas Filipinas. The shorter route is through NLEX, taking the San Fernando (Pampanga) exit, along the Gapan-Olongapo Road through the Pampanga towns of San Fernando, Bacolor, Guagua, Libao. The longer route is going around through NLEX and SCTEX, taking the Dinalupihan exit, bypassing the four towns earlier mentioned, and obviously escaping any congestion. We took the second option. Wider highways. Faster travel. More scenic.
But things can never be too good to be true. The confusion started once we hit the intersection at Roman Highway from the Dinalupihan exit of the SCTEX, an illustration of how should never blindly rely on technology. The GPS indicated a left turn. The map indicated a right turn. The watch indicated that it was lunch time. Our stomach indicated hunger. Fun.
The stretch of road from the highway to Mt. Samat/Friendship Tower consists of hilly climbs and zigzags through the backwoods of Bataan, with few cars passing the route, leading you to doubt your sense of direction. In the end, in another instance of had-we-known-what-we-know-now, we would have simply blazed our way to the Philippine-Japanese Friendship Tower (which we sought out in our previous travel, Directions and Surprises to Mt. Samat). Las Casas Filipinas is a few hundred meters from the Tower.
The journey doesn’t end there. There’s an utter lack of visible signs pointing to the 400-hectare resort. This destination in the sleepy town of Bagac, Bataan, a 3-hour drive from Metro Manila, seems not to reveal itself easily. There’s a short maze of tiny roads that hides this place. And so, as we entered the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, we come full circle to what we have been talking about from the start: history.
But this is not your usual history lesson in school. History is boring to many souls because it’s usually limited to text and to some old photos. Here at Las Casas Filipinas, history comes alive. You get to see the old houses and historical buildings, some replanted from its original location and, the majority, striking replicas. It’s like the original place where we first saw this concept, the Nayong Pilipino, only much better. Plus guests get to actually stay overnight in many of these houses.
Immediately after the entrance arch of Las Islas Filipinas are the beautiful Casa San Miguel and Casa Vyzantina (or Bizantina), the latter built around the 1890s, a bahay na bato originally constructed at San Nicolas, Binondo. There’s the Casa Candaba, a mansion originally constructed in 1780 in, you guessed it, Candaba, Pampanga. That’s old, really old. We’ve read that Casa Candaba was used as the residence of the Spanish Gobernador Heneral whenever he’s in the area. There’s the Casa Baliuag 1, originally constructed in 1898, which used to be at the corner of Poblacion and Burgos Streets in Baliuag Bulacan, at one time used as the Baliuag municipal hall of Baliuag in the 1950’s. There’s the Casa Hidalgo, which is a mansion built in 1867 and originally situated at the corner of R. Hidalgo St. and Callejon de Carcer in Quiapo District, Manila. It was also used as the first campus of the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts.
The reception area is the ground floor of Casa Mexico, a house reconstructed using the original materials that was bought, nay, rescued, from a junk shop. At the back is Casa Luna, originally built in 1850 in a La union town formerly known as Namacpacan, which was renamed in honor of the famous Luna Brothers, Juan Luna (the painter) and Antonio Luna (the general).
Now, you may be wondering how we get to know these details. Easy. Simply check the website of Las Islas Filipinas or pick up a brochure when you’re on site. Better still, we strongly suggest that you join the guided tour around the resort. It’s done every hour. And it’s free. Nice.
Near the beach, and conveniently standing tall beside the swimming pool, are units of Casa Cagayan. On rough hardwood stilts as tall as a man, this is an all-wood structure that reminds us of childhood. It’s so basic. Cut down a huge hardwood, slice the wider part into planks, the rest as posts. The walls and floor are all planks. To complete the ambiance, shine the floor, put some capiz shell windows, wooden bed and sala set. Beautiful. Simple, basic and, yet, very beautiful (beauty not at all diminished by the slow water drainage at the shower enclosure).
Housing the restaurant, serving Filipino food to Las Casas Filipinas guests, is a a replica of Casa Unisan, the first bahay na bato built in 1839 in Unisan, Quezon. Enjoy lechon kawali or sinigang na tangigue, or some other Filipino favorites, comfortably seated beside the window overlooking the plaza, which, in some evenings, features a youth group performing folk dances. We always appreciate these performances (thank you, Las Casas Filipinas).
The Italian restaurant, on the other hand, is found in the replica of the Casa Binan, which was inherited by the mother of Dr. Jose Rizal. The place brings us back to the past, a mixture of colonial life, affluence living of the local elite, and the revolutionary movement that strengthened as the Spanish rule weakened after more than 300 years of occupation.
On a more mundane note, we really can’t help but wonder why the Italian restaurant would be housed in a bahay na bato associated with the national hero, Rizal, or, in the first place, why would an Italian restaurant — pizza, spaghetti and all — be found in a place dedicated to Philippine houses and history? But, hey, while this is a place where we get to experience the past, it’s primarily a resort.
The two restaurants, one serving Filipino food and the other serving Italian food, prevent hungry quests from declaring a revolution. There’s the usual room service, of course. Imagine the 19th century Filipinos, living in these old houses, with intercom used to order food.
We tried the long stretch of beach with black volcanic sand, but, without huts or cabanas beside the beach to house the guests, we preferred the swimming pool. Not olympic-size, not too deep, but beautifully crafted to blend with the general ambiance of the place. Principally for kids, we thought. The kids would also enjoy exploring the number of life-size statues dispersed throughout the resort. Statues of kids playing luksong-tinik or palo sebo, or listening to the stories of Lola Basyang.
This place is child-friendly. Guest-friendly, really. The warm smile and quick service makes up for whatever is perceived to be lacking. The resort nurse — you’d never thought there’s one — was quick to bring fever medicine for the kids (we’re sure, though, that other quests would appreciate a stock of fever medicine in syrup, not tablet).
Las Casas Filipinas is indeed a happy combination of the old and the new, with enough to keep the interest of both kids and adults, if only for a day — it would be perfect for a weekend getaway, but would be boring beyond that. It’s a great place to experience history, with guests accommodated in structures that housed Filipino ancestors in different eras and from different areas of the Philippines.